And When She Was Good by Laura Lippman; published 2012 by William Morrow (HarperCollins)
Opening line: “Suburban Madam Dead in Apparent Suicide.”
Heloise is a modern-day madam. On paper, she is a lobbyist for the Women’s Full Employment Network and a somewhat aloof single mom. But that life is a cover for her real business: prostitution. Heloise is very smart and very good at covering her tracks. But then she finds out another suburban madam has been murdered, someone that Heloise knew a long time ago.
The book flashes back to Heloise’s life growing up, and how she got into prostitution. Her pimp, Val (also her son’s father), murdered a man in front of Heloise and she turned him in. For several years, he’s been in prison and she has been visiting him, pretending to be just as devoted to him as ever. But as another old connection is murdered, Heloise fears that Val knows her secret.
I was really impressed by yet another captivating mystery. I guess that’s exactly what mysteries are going for. 🙂 The story is well crafted and Heloise (nee Helen) is an interesting heroine. She’s ruthlessly practical, she lies left and right, and yet she does have strict standards that she holds herself to. For example, despite being a madam, she takes good care of the young women she employs as prostitutes. At several moments throughout the story, we’re reminded that Helen is, in many ways, just like you and me.
She pours another glass of wine, finishing a bottle for the first time in years, yet feeling as if she’s not drinking alone, far from it. She’s one of a dozen, a hundred, a thousand, a million women, holding a glass and staring into space, asking herself the musical questions she used to hear on soupy, soapy WFEN radio: What’s it all about? Is that all there is? What are you doing the rest of your life?
Lippman hits at an uncomfortable spot: most women wouldn’t like to be associated with someone like Helen—and in the book, Helen has a hard time making friends, even though most women don’t know what she does. But Lippman breaks through that discomfort and gets the reader to root for Helen.
And we’re not disappointed. It takes Helen almost being murdered to realize that she needs to make a permanent change in her life. It’s her version of a mid-life crisis, but in this case it doesn’t end with a new car. It ends with Helen choosing simplicity and a good life for her son. I felt the ending was very satisfying in this way.
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